I noted that one of the main distinctions is between purists (those who want the party to represent liberalism alone and who are opposed to conservatism) and fusionists (those who, wrongly in my opinion, believe that the party can harmonise liberalism and conservatism).
I identified the former prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, as one of the purists. And in today's Herald Sun he confirmed my choice. He explained his recent decision to quit the Liberal Party this way:
the Liberal Party has become increasingly conservative ... It's something also that I'm very sad about. If it's possible for any good to come out of a resignation ... I would like it to be that Liberals ... must fight harder to fight for Liberal values within the party itself.
If they don't, more conservative elements of the party will become stronger and stronger and more pervasive and the basic Liberal philosophy on which the party was founded by Menzies will be cast further and further into the ash heap.
Clearly Fraser is a liberal purist: he is someone who sees conservatism as the enemy of the Liberal Party tradition and who is saddened by the presence of conservatism within the party.
Which says something about the politics of Australia in the 1970s when Fraser won office. In that decade, Fraser was thought to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum. P.G. Tiver wrote a book on the Australian Liberal Party in 1978 and this is how he describes Fraser:
Fraser's own ideology is, along the liberal-conservative continuum, conservative on all major points, and more strikingly conservative than Menzies'.
And this is from a report on a Liberal Party meeting in 1974:
There were some fears at the start of the meeting that the philosophical differences between "trendies" such as Peacock and Chipp and conservatives such as Fraser and Forbes might create a problem ...
The fact that an anti-conservative like Fraser could be considered a conservative "on all major points" shows just how limited Australian politics was in the 1970s. The most "conservative" political figure was someone who was utterly unsympathetic to conservatism.
Little wonder then that liberalism marched on with little opposition in Australia throughout that period.
Liberalism has been around for so long, that little about it is novel. For instance, liberals want to maximise individual autonomy. But this leads to an ideological tension. Some liberals believe that the best way to maximise individual autonomy is through a laissez-faire principle in which there is minimal government interference. But other liberals think that people can't be autonomous unless they have the resources to put their preferred choices into effect and that the state should therefore intervene to create equality whether of opportunity or outcome.
In the 1970s in Australia, the first option was labelled as conservative and the second as socialist or ameliorative. It's in this sense, and this limited sense alone, that Fraser was a conservative. In a strongly "socialist" political climate he held to the so-called "conservative" option. For instance in 1975 he declared that,
I have no intention of leading a Government which is only going to socialise Australia at a slower pace than Labor.
And in the same year he wrote:
there are serious limitations on the ability of the government to produce the better life
And this, in the political climate of the time, was enough to put him at the most "conservative" end of politics, when all he had really done was to prefer one liberal option over another.
Fraser has never been a genuine conservative. In a previous post I wrote of Fraser that,
Way back in 1968 Fraser gave a speech in which he noted that one Australian university, as an entrance requirement, "recognises the following languages - French, German, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Italian, Russian and Japanese". He criticised this selection by claiming that,
the list as a whole is one belonging to the last century except for one of the languages mentioned.According to Fraser, the European languages did not belong in the twentieth century. Only the Japanese one did.
Fraser hasn't changed his politics. He's been pushing for open borders for decades. He's not only a liberal but a radical one. He feels no connection at all to any national heritage or inherited identity.
To be a genuine conservative, there has to be a tradition, or some aspect of a tradition, you think worth conserving. Fraser demonstrated a lack of attachment to the West itself back in 1968, a declaration of non-conservatism if ever there was one.